Katie arrived off the plane dishevelled and tired. As soon as she touched down, she called Suzanne.
“Hello, Katie” said Suzanne nervously. “I am so pleased that you are back. I really missed you.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Katie asked, as she gathered up her hand luggage and got off the plane.
“Because there was no point. You couldn’t have done anything about it and it was kind of nice that you didn’t have to go through all of that -- especially when I know how much you really care.”
Katie swallowed hard and tried to hold back her tears.
“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me. I had to find out nine months later. Why would you keep that a secret?”
“It wasn’t a secret; it was just something that… oh, you know.”
“I don’t know!” Katie almost spat at her. “Now, what’s going on?”
“He’s doing really well, and they said he can go back to college in the fall. He won’t need that much help, but they have had to alter the building a little so that he can move around freely. And we’ve moved Josh’s bedroom downstairs so that it’s easier for him.”
“Oh my goodness,” Katie said. “I just cannot take all of this in. Can I come and see him? Would he want to see me, do you think?”
“Of course he would, Katie. The other day he asked when you were coming back. I have been with him at the hospital a lot and he asked where you were. I don’t think he even knew that you had gone to Spain. Anyway, let’s change the subject. Did you have the best time ever?”
“Well, I did...” she admitted. “But let’s come back to the matter at hand. I just can’t take it in. It is such a shock. You have had months...”
“Believe me,” Suzanne said, “we’ve had months on our own – plenty of time to take it in. But when you see your brother coming back home in a wheelchair, you just know that his life is never going to be the same again. It is very hard – not just for him. Mom keeps weeping all the time. I know she is extremely overdramatic, but I know how she feels. She just says ‘My baby… my baby…’”
“I am just coming out of arrivals now,” Katie told her. “My grandma will be getting me. I will come over later, if that’s okay.”
She walked out of arrivals and immediately saw her grandma. Running over, Katie hugged her, leaving her luggage in a heap.
“Just look at you!” Grandma said. “You are so tanned. You look so beautiful and so sophisticated. Just what has Spain done for you? You don’t look like an oversized kid anymore.”
Katie hugged her closer. “Come on, let’s get to the car.”
They pushed the luggage to the car together, loaded it in, and got in the car.
“I take it you heard about poor Josh? What a terrible tragedy.” Her grandma put the key in the ignition.
Katie nodded. “I did. I am going to go to see him later, I think.”
Grandma drove out of the car park onto the open road. “Look Katie, obviously I know why you took off for Spain. Don’t think that now that this has happened to him, things will change.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“I mean that just because he’s a cripple, he won’t automatically start liking you.”
Katie gulped. “I know that. The way you talk… are you trying to say that just because he can’t walk, he still won’t lower his standards to want to be with me? I know by now that he doesn’t want me. He has made that totally obvious. It’s just that I have known him nearly all my life. It would be so weird not to visit him.”
“I am not saying that,” Grandma argued. “I am just saying that nothing is going to change.”
They arrived home and Katie despondently walked in to the house. She unpacked and had a shower, then blow-dried her waist-length hair until it resembled a blue-black curtain hanging down her back. She put on her new blue jeans and a long silver-and-white blouse with flat silver sandals. She gazed at herself in the mirror to look at the effect.
Her father was definitely right. She really did feel good about herself. She really felt different – or maybe she wasn’t different at all. Maybe she was still the silly, shy girl that she has always been… but in nice clothes. She shrugged, grabbed her jacket and headed for Suzanne’s house.
She walked out of her front door, and down the sidewalk past four houses until she stood outside her friend’s house. It looked exactly the same: manicured, perfectly striped lawn; tidy house painted pure white. The only difference was that there was a wooden ramp up the stairs to the porch.
She walked up the ramp and rang on the door. No sooner as she rang it the door swung open and Suzanne jumped out at her.
“Oh, Katie,” she squealed. “I missed you so much. I wish you hadn’t gone. I really needed you. Someone to talk to,” she cried.
“I would have come back, you know,” said Katie. “I actually feel really offended that you didn’t call me. You always said that I was like family. You’re practically the only family I have, apart from Grandma and my father. And then I find out the one terrible thing that has ever happened to you – and you didn’t call.”
“I wanted to, but no one would let me!” Suzanne tried to explain. “And then there is the other issue. You know,” she whispered. “Josh doesn’t even know about that, but I am sure Mommy suspects. You would have come back immediately – and what would have been the point?”
Katie sat down despondently. She felt desperate to see Josh. Suddenly, the door swung open and Josh came into the room. Katie’s first thought was that it was weird to not look up at him. She forgot herself for a moment and ran to him.
“Josh!” she said. “I am so sorry. I only just found out about what happened to you. Do you feel a bit better now?”
“Yeah, yeah fine. No sweat,” he answered. “Enough about me. You look totally great. What has happened to you? Maybe you have just grown up.”
“Thank you,” Katie gushed “And you...” She stumbled for something constructive to say. “Have you been working out or something? You look really fit.”
“Well, I have been lifting weights,” he flirted. “And you know...”
“Okay, Josh,” said Suzanne hurriedly, “let me spend time with Katie. I haven’t seen her for a year.”
“See you soon, Katie,” replied Josh. “Don’t be a stranger.” He left the room.
“He doesn’t seem that bad,” Katie said. “He looks good.”
“That is because he has to move his whole body with his arms. Transferring, and all that. I know all the terms now.”
“Is he still going out with that cheerleader – Muffy, or Cindy, or whatever her name was?”
“Mindy, you mean,” replied Suzanne. “No, of course not. She disappeared a week after the accident.”
“Was he upset?” Katie asked.
“Not about that, no. Of course that just disappeared into the awfulness of the situation. All his friends visited, and a few of what he would have called the ‘uncool’ girls, but Mindy is definitely gone.” Suzanne looked carefully at Katie. “You know… just because he can’t walk, nothing will likely change.”
Katie looked down. “I know, but I still care about him. I can’t help it. It doesn’t just go away, does it? But… you know what, I met someone in Spain.”
“You didn’t say!” Suzanne exclaimed. “Why didn’t you tell me? We spoke and texted enough times.”
“Maybe we don’t open up to each other nearly as much as we thought,” Katie said, looking her in the eye. “Quite honestly, I am so not understanding why you didn’t tell me about Josh… but there you go?”
“Well,” Suzanne said trying to change the subject, “who did you meet, actually?”
“His name was Miguel, and… you know...”
“No, I don’t know. What happened?”
“Well,” Katie said, elaborating, “when I left, we kind of decided to leave it. He may be visiting here in a couple of months. We will just have to see how it goes. I’m not sure. Maybe I won’t want to see him. Maybe he won’t want to see me.”
“Don’t you care?” Suzanne asked.
“I don’t know how I feel. Spain seems a million miles away. I just don’t know. Anyway, take this.” She threw a little package at Suzanne.
Suzanne ripped open the little silver box and found an amazing silver bracelet. “I love it!” she said, hugging her.
A week past and life turned back to normal. Katie started to go out, see her friends and saw Suzanne every day.
One day Katie went to Suzanne’s house to collect her to go to the mall. Suzanne had overslept and was still in the shower. Katie decided to wait in the garden, as it was such an amazingly hot summer’s day.
She sat on the edge of the pool, dipping her feet in the water. Josh bobbed his head out of the water.
“Oh, sorry,” Katie said “I didn’t see you there”.
He shook the water out of his hair. Katie looked at him. She still found him attractive – more than attractive. In fact, maybe even better than before. His body was no longer skinny, tall and straight but muscular, rounded and tight.
“You can look at me, you know,” he said to her. “Just because I can’t walk, it doesn’t make me a non-entity.”
“No, it isn’t that,” she stuttered. “It is... oh, it doesn’t matter. Sorry, Josh. I just didn’t want to invade your space.”
“Sorry,” he said, holding on to the side. “Did you have an amazing time in Spain?”
“It was like paradise, honestly. A different world. The things I saw, the things I ate… It’s just a totally different culture. It’s half of my life, and I didn’t even understand it.”
“Are you pleased to be back?” he asked her.
“Kind of. I’m not sure, but I had to come back, really. This is my life – and I can’t leave my grandma, can I?” She looked around. “Josh, how are you going to get out of the pool?” she asked.
“Like this,” he said. He pulled his upper body out and sat on the side. “Do you know, you’re the first person that has asked me a normal question without avoiding the issue. Thank you for that. It makes me feel more normal.”
“That is fine,” she said, trying not to look at him. “I’m going to see if Suzanne is ready.”
“Are you going to the mall?” he asked her.
“Yes,” she told him.
“Do you need a lift?”
“No,” she replied. “I have my grandma’s car.”
She walked into the house. She sighed as she walked in. It didn’t make any difference at all that she had been away. It didn’t make any difference whatsoever that he couldn’t walk; in fact, it made it worse she thought. She found him ten times more attractive that she ever had before, especially as this was the longest conversation she had ever had with him.
Soon Katie was going to start college. Josh asked her if she wanted a lift to school on their first day.
“I was just thinking of walking there, to be honest,” she told him.
He looked at her. “It is at least an hour’s walk. Why didn’t you think about taking the bus, at least?”
“Just to exercise, to be honest,” she said, trying not to give him any eye contact.
“Let me take you.”
“Why?” she asked him.
“Why don’t you give me any eye contact?” he asked her. “Can’t you look at me now? Do you hate the way I look?”
“No, I don’t hate the way you look. That is what I am trying to avoid.”
He looked at her as she blushed. The secret was out. “What do you mean?”
“Look,” she replied, “just don’t make me say it, okay?”
“Please,” he responded, “tell me what you mean. I may be stupid, but I’m not sure what you are saying. But I may like it; you never know.”
“I always had a crush on you, okay? And you never noticed me. I am still embarrassed, okay?” She quickly cut it off.
He looked at her. “It’s not like I didn’t notice you. You are my little sister’s friend. You and she were always around, playing with dolls, following us around. You were just a kid. And now… well, now...”
“Now what?” she asked quietly. “I’m still just your sister’s friend, who looks a bit older?”
“No,” he said quietly. “You are Suzanne’s friend, whom I have finally seen as more than my sister’s friend, and .... you are beautiful.” He paused for a second. “And you’re wrong. I haven’t ever ignored you. Do you remember when I had the pool party?”
“You wore the most amazing dress. You looked so hot. I was about to walk towards you, and then… I don’t know what happened. Someone got in the way. I tried to find you, but you were gone.” She nodded. “And then I went away the next day, up to the mountains. When I got back, they said you had gone to Spain. Why did you go?”
“I just needed to get away. That’s all.”
He looked at her. She was sitting on the ground outside on the lawn waiting for Suzanne to finish getting ready before they went out. “Could you stand up for a minute?” he asked her.
“Why?” she asked.
“This is why,” he replied, manoevering himself clumsily out of his chair and suddenly sitting right next to her.
They sat on the ground, staring at each other for a moment. He moved his face closer to hers and their lips touched. Katie pulled her face away.
“Why did you do that?” he asked her.
“You didn’t want me then. Why would you want me now?” she replied.
“Don’t say that. It isn’t like that. I thought you were just a kid. You know it isn’t like that. Are you trying to say that just because I can’t walk now, I will lower my standards to like you now? Is this what you think?”
She wanted to shout, “YES, of course that is what I think! It’s true, isn’t it?” Instead, she nodded sadly.
He balanced himself with one arm. With the other hand, he gently tipped her chin and kissed her softly on the lips.
Tears of joy or emotion, she wasn’t quite sure which, trickled down her face. She stared up at him. He reached forward and kissed her again. She looked at him, reached forward and kissed him.
She sat back and sighed. Suddenly Suzanne came into the garden. “Is everything okay, Joshua? Why are you out of your chair? Did you fall out?”
“No, it’s fine. I was just showing Katie how I get in and out?”
“Josh?” Suzanne said, laughing. “Why would she want to see that? Come on, Katie; let’s go.”
Katie looked at Josh for a moment. “Do you need a hand getting up?” she asked him hesitantly.
“I would love a hand from you, but this time I think I’m good.”
The two girls set off.
“Was he coming on to you?” Suzanne asked her.
“I’m not sure, really. He could have been. I couldn’t read the signs.”
“Tell me to mind my own business… but did I see you kiss him?”
“Well… yes, but he kissed me first,” she replied quietly.
Suzanne sighed. “I don’t know what to say. I kind of thought all of that was over. I don’t know what to say,” she repeated.
“It is probably nothing,” Katie said. “I think he felt sorry for me or something. I’m not sure. Maybe he thought that I felt sorry for him.”
“Do you?” Suzanne asked, looking at her.
“Kind of,” Katie admitted. “But in a funny sort of way, it doesn’t matter. When he gets his life back, goes to college and all that, I bet he won’t want me. I’ll be back to square one. Just wait and see.”